No-killing with kindness: Jessica Reid is leading the nonprofit No Kill Louisville [News]

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This article appears in the November 2010 issue of Louisville Magazine. To subscribe, please visit loumag.com.

The dog now called Hope was unknown on the morning of September 28. That changed by mid-afternoon. According to reports, somebody tossed the border collie from the window of a dark car zipping through an Interstate 65 curve near the University of Louisville, and another vehicle clipped her after she smacked the pavement. A driver stopped and reported the incident, and an animal-control officer rushed the black-and-white dog to Jefferson Animal Hospital. Among the injuries: two spinal fractures, a left femur fracture, a dislocated hip, stomach bleeding. By nightfall, Jackie Gulbe, who does community relations for Metro Animal Services, and an officer investigating the case, had named the dog Hope. The initial estimate to keep her alive was $8,000.

About 9 o’clock that evening, Jessica Reid, the president of the local nonprofit No Kill Louisville, was typing a grant proposal on the sofa in her Germantown home, where she lives with her husband Glen and four cats — not to mention foster felines that are typically added to the mix. The group’s “no-kill” philosophy, shared by similar campaigns throughout the country, states that no adoptable animal should be euthanized unless it is too sick, injured or dangerous to be saved. That night, Reid’s phone rang and on the other end was Gulbe, who had reached out to see if No Kill Louisville could get money for Hope and do it quickly. “We want to keep Hope alive,” Gulbe said. “We’ll have to euthanize her if somebody doesn’t step up. Do you think you can help?”

The organization was only five months old, and by that point, its only fund-raising efforts had been a poker run, which brought in enough cash to basically cover the nonprofit’s insurance, and a Facebook request that, in 10 days, got supporters to give $2,700 for a cat “snip-a-thon” for other local animal-welfare agencies.

Reid’s first move was spending more than two hours on the phone with Hope’s veterinarians. “If we had all the money in the world,” she asked, “what’s best for her?”

“Doing the surgeries,” a vet told her.

“Then we’ll put our money where our mouth is,” Reid said.

Thirty minutes past midnight, Reid wrote a message on Facebook for No Kill Louisville’s more than 10,000 followers. Somebody from the Shamrock Foundation, another local animal group raising money, called Reid at 1 a.m. to say they’d oversee the dog’s care and rehabilitation. By morning, people had given more than $3,000. Twenty-four hours after the initial post, that number was $10,000. When the estimated surgery costs rose to $12,000, the donations increased, too.

*****

Two days after Hope was hurled from the car, Reid recounts these events during an interview inside Day’s Espresso and Coffee Bar. By this afternoon, Reid says, more than $14,000 has come in for Hope, who has been transferred to Louisville Veterinary Specialty and Emergency Services for surgery. “People in this community love animals,” Reid says. “They just need to know what to do to help. So many people come up to me and have no clue about what they can do.”

A Texan by birth, with dyed “blackish, reddish” hair and a firm handshake, the 37-year-old Reid sometimes spits out words so fast that they run the risk of tripping over one another. Laura Younkin, one of No Kill Louisville’s co-founders and a board member, describes Reid this way: “My God, the woman’s energetic. We don’t have any proof that she sleeps.” Younkin’s mother calls Reid “the firecracker.” Reid’s day job is the Ursuline Sisters of Louisville’s public relations director, and her other “full-time job” is No Kill Louisville, whose “office” is a website, Facebook and Twitter pages, and a P.O. box. 

When asked if she has heard some of the criticism — that thousands of dollars is too much to spend on one animal — Reid says, “It’s not about the money. Honestly. It doesn’t matter if it’s $12,000. It’s about what we, as a community, want to be. Do we want this abuse to go unanswered? No.”

The organization, founded in April, has gained momentum — and skepticism — in recent months. “I didn’t expect it to take off as soon as it did,” she says. “The knowledge about this movement is increasing little by little.” In August, for instance, No Kill Louisville led an effort that resulted in Metro Council passing a non-binding resolution that says Louisville wants to become a no-kill community. That came following Reid’s meetings with 19 council members — plus several mayoral candidates — after sending letters and e-mails and leaving phone messages. Both Greg Fischer and Hal Heiner have voiced their support. “The goal is to kill zero adoptable animals,” says Metro Councilman Kelly Downard, who co-sponsored the bipartisan measure. “That might not be possible, but we need to head in the right direction.”

The Hope Fund, as it is now known, has made No Kill Louisville’s platform even more visible. “This is about reaching out to the public, showing people that there’s another way,” Reid says. “What we’re proposing is a business plan on how to stop killing animals that are adoptable.”

*****

Reid was born in San Antonio, then split time between Austin, Texas, and Oklahoma City after her parents, whom she describes as hippies, separated when she was seven. Though cats were not allowed in the house, she snuck them through her bedroom window anyway. One of her aunts ran an Oklahoma City homeless shelter, which instilled in Reid an altruistic spirit. “I remember painting beds in the homeless shelter when I was a kid,” she says. A broadcast journalism degree from the University of Central Oklahoma eventually landed her in Louisville eight years ago as WLKY’s executive producer.

During the August 2009 flash flooding, a friend told Reid that Metro Animal Services, at one point drowning in water, needed people to foster animals as cleanup got under way. That was the first time Reid had fostered a cat, whose name was Frankie and never got returned. “Most people are ‘foster failures’ at some point,” she says. Reid began volunteering at MAS soon after, helping the agency post photos of adoptable animals online in a running piece called “Furry Features.”

“I really got frustrated because I would take a picture of a cat or a dog, try to find it a home, and they would be put down before I would even get any word out,” Reid says. “I was really depressed about it, and a shelter employee said, ‘It doesn’t have to be this way. There’s a movement happening in this country you should find out about.’” The worker handed Reid a copy of the book Redemption: The Myth of Pet Overpopulation and the No Kill Revolution in America. Reid “drank the Kool-Aid,” started passing the book on to others. “The idea behind it is that if we use the excuse of overpopulation as a reason to kill animals, then we’re not really addressing the problem,” Reid says, adding that 80 percent of euthanized animals at MAS and the Kentucky Humane Society are adoptable.The book’s author, Nathan Winograd, who also runs the California-based No Kill Advocacy Center, released Redemption in 2007. He says that in ’97 he helped San Francisco become the first city to save every “healthy and homeless” cat or dog. In 2001, with Winograd as director, a shelter in rural upstate New York became the first to save all animals, even those that were sick or injured but could be helped. “No longer were we asking, ‘Is this possible?’” Winograd says. “It became, ‘When’s it happening?’”

Ultimately, he says, the goal is for cities to embrace what he calls the “No Kill Equation,” 11 tenets that establish things such as rescue groups, high-volume but low-cost spays and neuters, foster care circles, adoption programs, a volunteer base. One goal is to prevent the surrender of animals by helping owners solve the problem that made them want to get rid of their pets in the first place. Jefferson County already has many of the programs and services in place. According to Winograd’s conservative estimate, there are 50 no-kill shelters in the U.S., meaning they save at least 90 percent of the animals. The other 10 percent or so, Winograd says, accounts for the “hopelessly ill, hopelessly injured and truly vicious that don’t need to be on the streets.”

“This is happening all over the country, in places that are rural, urban, Southern, Northern, liberal, conservative,” Winograd says, citing Reno, Nev., as a success story several times. “There’s no excuse. If Louisville embraces the model, it will succeed.”

Over the last three years, there has been a strong no-kill movement in Austin, Texas, where Amber Rowland serves as the program development manager for the Town Lake Animal Center, an all-takers shelter that serves Austin and Travis counties. “It’s been nasty at times,” Rowland says. This past spring, for example, the shelter’s director was pushed out. “The no-kill folks are claiming victory, and I think we lost a great animal-welfare leader,” Rowland says. “Nathan Winograd and some of the no-kill supporters make it seem simpler than it really is.” The euthanasia rate for dogs and cats in Austin is about 27 percent, though Rowland says concerns exist that the number is unsustainable. She says that the shelter is operating at capacity, and that volunteers, rescue groups and people who foster pets threatened by euthanasia are overwhelmed with the volume of animals.

“It’s one thing to talk about it from a philosophical or theoretical standpoint. Reality is different,” Rowland says. “Not everybody wants to save every animal.”

Winograd says, “Even if you never cross the goal line, what’s wrong with moving closer to it? What’s wrong with killing less animals?”

Wayne Zelinsky, MAS’ interim director, sits on No Kill Louisville’s board. “Any way we can help, we want to help. And I think it can work, but it takes a careful and deliberate plan,” he says. “Many places have tried it, and it hasn’t worked.”

Says Gulbe: “The hardest thing to making this a reality is convincing every individual pet owner to spay or neuter their pets — no more backyard breeding or accidental litters. We’ve got to cut off the pipeline. We can’t foster our way out of it, can’t adopt our way out of it.” The Kentucky Humane Society is on No Kill Louisville’s advisory committee, and Allison Strickland, who does public relations for KHS, says that this is not something that can “happen overnight.” “The success depends on how much the community embraces it,” she says.

Richard Price, an MAS animal-control officer, guesses that he brings in 10 or 12 animals a week, which doesn’t take into account the pets owners drop off. And that’s one officer out of 10 or 12 patrolling the streets each week. “Where are these animals going to go?” he asks. “I think it’s a waste of time. I hate saying that, but I really do.”

Zelinsky says, “The animals don’t stop coming in, and there are only so many people who will take them into their home as fosters or who will adopt them or transfer them to a rescue. After that — after those people run out — what do you do?” From January through September 2010, MAS brought in 11,083 dogs and cats — 2,601 of which were surrendered by their owners — and euthanized 6,399 of them, or about 58 percent. Shelby County’s shelter became Kentucky’s only no-kill facility about two years ago, and from January through Oct. 13, 2010, it brought in 1,347 dogs and cats and euthanized 85 of them, or roughly 6 percent.

Reid says she understands the resistance. “When you’re sitting behind the shelter desk, seeing animal after animal, it’s hard not to become cynical. You get mired in something for so long — you deal with the people doing horrible things — and you begin to think that all of society is bad,” she says. “It’s not going to be easy, but we have 750,000 people in Louisville. I think we can get less than 10 percent of them to help, either by fostering, moving animals to rescues, adopting, donating, raising awareness. That’s a tiny number.” 

“There’s a traditional shelter mentality where they feel like the public is the enemy and there’s no other answer. They validate the fact that they’re killing by saying there’s no other way,” she adds. “The no-kill philosophy is a matter of your will. You have to believe and push it forward.”

*****

It’s a mid-October evening, two weeks since No Kill Louisville started collecting money for Hope, and Reid is hosting six co-founders and board members in her kitchen to discuss an upcoming fund-raiser at Cherokee Park called the Million Mutt March. One woman has a foster dog in her lap that she just picked up from the shelter. A kitten is clawing its way up a satchel slung over one of the counter’s barstools.

“I get asked, ‘Why not help people?’” says Younkin, who has eight dogs and two cats and has fostered 16 canines that have found new homes. “It’s always either-or, the children or the animals. Why can’t you do both?”

“When I get asked that, I say, ‘This is my passion. If that’s yours, do something about it — get something started — and I’ll volunteer,’” Reid says.

In total, people from 27 states, plus two Canadian provinces, have given to the Hope Fund, mostly donations in the $10 to $25 range. As of press time, Hope was in stable condition at the home of one of the veterinarians who operated on her. In all, the nonprofit has raised more than $22,000. (The Shamrock Foundation brought in roughly the same amount and — when other organizations are accounted for — the total is in the ballpark of $50,000.) “Now we have this extra money,” Reid says. “How can we continue to help?”

After No Kill Louisville and the Shamrock Foundation split Hope’s medical bills, Reid and the board members want to use the rest of their funds for shelter animals that need corrective or life-changing treatments in Louisville and surrounding counties. How much money will be spent on an animal will be determined on a case-by-case basis and there is no glass ceiling. If the Hope Fund helps an animal, the board decides, that animal cannot be put down.

Younkin, the secretary, scribbles notes about how they should word it. “The agency guarantees it will not kill the animal…”

“Put euthanize,” somebody says.

“People hate the word kill,” Reid says.

“Yeah,” Younkin says with a laugh, “we should be No Euthanize Louisville.”

“No,” Reid says, “let’s use a strong word. That’s what we’re about.”

Photo: John Nation

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